Raiders take step forward, show optimism for future

Darren Steinke -- Submitted photo.

Stanks On Sports

Oil Chenier and Luke Moroz are going to have lots of guys that have their backs in a couple of years.

If all goes well for their Prince Albert Raiders, they are going to have a deep team at one point in time due to the club’s draft work this year and last year. The Raiders appear to be well on their way to building a future core group that could materialize when Chenier and Moroz, both forwards, embark on their 18-year-old campaigns, and that core could potentially be together for two to three years.

Last year, the Raiders had five out of their 11 total selections in the first three rounds of the WHL Prospects Draft including three of the first seven picks. They took defenceman Daxon Rudolph first overall, centre Riley Boychuk second overall and left-winger Ty Meunier seventh overall. That group will have their first chance to crack the team’s roster in training camps that usually open in late August.

In the Prospects Draft that was held this past Thursday, the Raiders again had five out of their 11 total selections in the first three rounds and two of the first four selections. They held the second overall selection in the first round that originally belonged to the Seattle Thunderbirds, which the Raiders acquired on November 16, 2022 in a blockbuster deal that sent star defenceman Nolan Allan to Seattle.

The Raiders used that pick to select defenceman Brock Cripps from Victoria, B.C. Cripps, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 148 pounds, collected 25 goals and 45 assists in 26 regular season games playing with St. George’s School Under-15 Prep team in Vancouver, B.C.

 The Raiders staff then obviously saw something they really liked in centre Ben Harvey from Edmonton, who played for the Northern Alberta Xtreme Under-15 Prep team. Prince Albert made a sound trade with the Kelowna Rockets to acquire the fourth overall selection in the first round. To get that pick, the Raiders sent the Rockets the ninth overall pick in the first round, the 57th overall selection in the third round and a fifth round pick in the 2025 Prospects Draft.

Harvey, who stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 164 pounds, collected 19 goals and 33 assists in 27 regular season games with the Xtreme.

As the draft went along, the Raiders made a couple of selections that should please the local hockey community in Prince Albert taking centres Connor Howe and Declan Borthwick from the Prince Albert Pirates Under-15 AA team. Howe, who stands 5-foot-7 and weighs 146 pounds, was taken in the second round and 31st overall.

In 16 regular season games with the Pirates, Howe had 21 goals and 22 assists. He is the younger brother of Regina Pats star captain Tanner Howe.

Borthwick, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 145 pounds, was picked in the sixth round and 120th overall. He had 32 goals and 25 assists in 28 regular season games.

In the U.S. Priority Draft held one day before the Prospects Draft, the Raiders nabbed a pair of players who have good potential in forward Gavin Burcar and defenceman Diego Gutierrez.

From Coto de Caza, Calif., Burcar, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 155 pounds, played for the Anaheim Junior Ducks Under-14 AAA squad this past season. He collected 29 goals and 33 assists in 51 regular season games. The Raiders selected Burcar in the first round and ninth overall in the U.S. Priority Draft.

From McAllen, Texas, Gutierrez, who stands 6-feet and weighs 160 pounds, played last season with the Shattuck St. Mary’s Under-14 AAA team collecting 12 goals and 66 assists in 56 regular season contests. The Raiders picked Gutierrez in the second round and 31st overall in the U.S. Priority Draft.

Once again while being selected in a WHL draft is always a joyful time for players and their families, it doesn’t automatically guarantee a career in the WHL as a star player. Often the Prospects Draft and U.S. Priority Draft are gambles.

One factor that makes WHL drafts a gamble is the fact teams are drafting players who just finished their 14-year-old seasons. In most cases, the players are still growing and maturing physically, so they could look a lot different when they first attempt to crack a WHL roster for real as a 16-year-old. The Raiders have reduced the gamble with having five picks inside the first three rounds in each of the past two Prospects Drafts.

Being selected in a WHL draft is also an opportunity, and there are always cases where someone picked in the later rounds or is undrafted and added to a protected list becomes a WHL star. Current Raiders star netminder Max Hildebrand is a perfect example of one of those cases.

Hildebrand was taken in the 13th round and 286th overall or second last in the then 2019 WHL Bantam Draft. Last season, Hildebrand became one of the WHL’s top five goalies posting a 25-20-4 record, a 2.88 goals against average, a .907 save percentage and two shutouts in regular season play.

At this point in time, the Raiders have done an outstanding job when it comes selecting players in WHL drafts this year and last year. With that noted, there is still a fair amount of work to be done before any of these players step on the ice for meaningful WHL games.

Expect DuPont to make splash in WHL sooner than later

It is possible years from now the 2024 WHL Prospects Draft will be remembered as the draft of Landon DuPont.

Back on April 8, the WHL announced on behalf of Hockey Canada and Hockey Alberta that DuPont has been granted Exceptional Player Status and is eligible to play in the WHL on a full-time basis beginning with the 2024-25 campaign. The skilled defenceman is well on his way to being “the next big thing” on the circuit.

The Calgary product, who will turn 15-years-old on May 28, was officially selected first overall in the Prospects Draft held this past Thursday by the Everett Silvertips. The Silvertips ended up with the first overall selection thanks to a blockbuster trade with the Kamloops Blazers on January 8, 2023 that sent defenceman Olen Zellweger to the Blazers.

Dupont, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 172 pounds, spent the 2023-24 campaign playing for the Edge School U18 Prep squad in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League where he recorded 62 points (19G-43A) in 30 regular season games to finish third in CSSHL U18 scoring. His 62 points led all blue-liners and established a new CSSHL U18 Prep single-season scoring record for defencemen.

DuPont added another 16 points (5G-11A) in five playoff games tying the CSSHL U18 Championship scoring record held by former Edmonton Oil Kings and Seattle Thunderbirds star Dylan Guenther. The defenceman was named CSSHL U18 Prep Championship MVP and helped Edge capture the CSSHL U18 title.

With the Silvertips, DuPont joins a team that finished fourth overall in the WHL’s regular season standings in 2023-24 with a 45-18-2-3 mark. They were swept 4-0 in a WHL Western Conference semifinal series by the Portland Winterhawks.

The Silvertips have never missed the WHL Playoffs since the franchise first hit the ice in the 2003-04 campaign. They would have been a post-season team if the WHL Playoffs in 2020 and 2021 weren’t cancelled by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Odds are pretty high that DuPont will get the chance to make a big impact in important late regular season games and post-season games as 15-year-old rookie. Due to being a defenceman, DuPont will likely have a little less fanfare watching all of his moves as centre Connor Bedard did with the Regina Pats. Bedard, who is now with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, is the only other player in the history of the WHL to be granted Exceptional Player Status.

Thanks to being a member of the Silvertips, DuPont will likely have a great chance to leave his mark on the history of the WHL with clutch exploits in the post-season.

Darren Steinke is a Saskatoon-based freelance sportswriter and photographer with more than 20 years of experience covering the WHL. He blogs frequently at